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Viriconium Paperback – Deckle Edge, October 25, 2005
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Viriconium gathers Harrison's stories about the great city Viriconium, the empire that rose after the fall of the Afternoon Cultures, and the struggles that surround them, their art and legends, and their connection to our world. The collection starts with "The Pastel City," in which two queens, Methvet Nian and Canna Moidart, battle for control of the empire; Lord tegeus-Cromis and the last survivors of his order fight for Methvet Nian against the rapacious Northerners and the terrifying geteit chemosit, remnants of the late Afternoon Empires. In "A Storm of Wings," the great airman Benedict Paucemanly returns from the moon, bearing with him an invasion of locustlike creatures who come from the stars and threaten to destroy the human world. The final story connects Viriconium to our world through mirrors and strange stories of those who traveled into great Viriconium and returned forever changed. Harrison creates an epic history of a captivating and strange metropolis full of bravos and dancers, intrigue and romance. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"The world that Harrison depicts is intricate and authentic, peopled with a multitude of strange yet lifelike characters—a combination which serves to make his richly imagined empire of Viriconium feel very real indeed.... This omnibus collection from the author of Light is canon-reading for those who wish to know the genre's roots, as well as the heights, to which it can aspire."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
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Top Customer Reviews
However, for literally EVERYONE, from the lowly fantasy lover to the pretentious lit-fic connoisseur, I'm going to say that this is a masterpiece of a fantasy work.
It's about 3 novels and a bunch of short stories, with only tangential connection to each one, and every story, from the most traditional (?) first novel written in '71, to it's last in the 80's, these stories are less about a fantasy world than how people live in a world that is fundamentally alien to our own.
It's sad, poetic, pointless in places, and tragic, with bits of odd surreality mixed in that does nothing to allay the feeling that the world in these stories is one of slow decay or of being insubstantial in the most profound of ways. to say nothing that the series draws direct comparisons between it and "The Wasteland" by T.S. Eliot would explain volumes on the substance of this novel.
in a way, Harrison more or less injected real life, for good or ill, into a fantasy world, and it is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
not a happy book, but an enthralling one nonetheless. give it a read if you want to see something of peerless quality and originality.
Retrospectively I can see how influential these stories must have been. I can see their elements echoing down through tales that came after them... yet all of them read as fresh new things.
These stories are solidly in the 'Dying Earth' subgenre of fantasy... so there is a sort of gloom that clings to all of them, which I enjoy. Each one is a dusky jewel set in a slowly decaying crown.
I'm so happy I finally got to read them.
*I chose Pastel City for a speculative fiction book club I belong to and a few of the other readers were less enchanted with it. I think some of the place names that echo real-world locations and such threw them off. I first read this book as a pre-teen and I think I have a soft spot for it as a result.
The contents are the three longer Viriconium stories (The Pastel City, A Storm of Wings, and In Viriconium) plus the range of shorter tales that surround these, often providing a peculiar form of continuity, where a story is the introduction to its predecessor. Time, for Viriconium, perched somehow at the far end of a degenerating world, is worn so thin that characters seem to wander from stage to stage almost as if they were themes rather than personalities. The flow of events is something of Gordian knot, inviting the reader to remain focused on the moment or only read the works a slice at a time.
At the tale of Viriconium progresses you will find a number of haunting similarities to the New Crobuzon of Mieville's Perdido Street Station, which was clearly influenced byHarrison's work. In addition there are dashes of Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, and even Mary Gentle. The city is set at the end of civilization, where the elements of technology are mostly forgotten only to make appearances with unnerving effect.
Whether a queen defends her city against a false claimant, or hordes of insectoid creatures descend from the moon, or a plague threatens to make art extinct, Harrison writess with a sharp and detailed pen. He has a knack for detailed description, humorous names, and grotesque situations, with plenty of sarcasm and irony mixed in. He is a writer's writer, very sensitive to language choices and less committed to the action of a plot. Certainly worthwhile reading for a fantasy buff, and this inexpensive volume is a great way to find out what he is about.